4 Days in Taiwan’s Taipei and New Taipei City Over the Holidays
Growing up in a tropical country got me ecstatic at the idea of winter. One of the few countries where I knew I could experience this within my budget (and that would admit me with my passport visa-free) is Taiwan. Taiwan is blessed with all four different seasons: summer, spring, autumn/fall and winter. The best time to visit Taiwan if you want to experience winter is from December to February. And because this was my first Christmas out of the country, my first holiday away from home and family since I started travelling and living overseas, I didn’t want to spend this jolly occasion sulking around so I planned a trip way ahead of time. At first, I was really looking forward to experiencing snow for the first time, but while there, I found myself so immensely rapt with the overall experience that I fully disregarded seeing snow.
Here’s my tips of things to do and places to go in Taiwan during the holiday season!
We arrived in Taipei Taoyuan International Airport at exactly 11:40pm. The flight took 3 hours from our country of origin, Vietnam. From the airport, we had to travel to our hostel that took us about 45 minutes. We rode the Taiwan High-Speed Rail (THSR) which was the most convenient way to travel to our destination then we hopped off at Ximen Station (blue line).
We were so amazed at their public transport system because it was tourist-friendly and everyone was approachable and accommodating. It is almost impossible to get lost. They have two different train lines, one is the regular MRT (Taipei Mass Rapid Transit) and the other one is the high-speed train (THSR). Taiwan High-Speed Railway runs from their capital Taipei to the southern city of Kaohsiung. It was based on Japan’s Shinkansen, colloquially known as the bullet train. The fare is costlier than the regular MRT so we only used it coming from and going to the airport. We took advantage of their MRT a lot more because it is the most convenient and most affordable way to go around and it’s even cheaper than hailing a taxi.
Our hostel is located in Ximending. It is Taipei’s shopping neighbourhood located in Wanhua District. We stayed in a hostel I booked in an app that only cost us NT$946 (New Taiwan Dollars) for 4 days and 3 nights stay per person. The regular rate for hostels around the area goes from NT$1,000 – NT$1,250 per person per night so we really got a good deal on the hostel that I booked. After checking-in, we walked around Ximending Walking District for a while then we headed to our first destination, Taipei City Hall Bus Station.
Taipei City Hall Bus Station
It was the night of 24th December, Christmas Eve, so we decided to go someplace we could celebrate. We found out that Taipei celebrates the festive season by lighting up parts of the city. We went to the two main areas where we could view the Christmas Lights Show all for free. The first area we visited is the Taipei City Hall Bus Station. They have a different motif every year and this time, they did a Las Vegas theme. They decorated the whole area with colourful neon lights which are perfect for the Christmas atmosphere we were longing for, plus a bonus of an open-air concert for the patrons busy taking pictures of the entire place. From the area, we also enjoyed a magnificent view of Taipei 101 showing off its changing lights from a distance.
Just across the street from Taipei City Hall Bus Station, we walked straight on to go to Taipei 101. The surrounding is also very festive and fast-paced with so many people trying to get the best shot of the majestic building. Once hailed as the tallest building in the world upon its opening in 2004, this skyscraper is definitely a must-see when going to Taiwan.
Xinyi Shopping District
Known as the “Manhattan of Taipei”, this business district is located right next to Taipei 101. Xinyi Shopping District brings together some of the best malls in town. This is a high-end shopping area with diverse branded products, so make sure you bring cash for chances of finding what you need. The area comes alive in the evening with night lights, big screens and various street performers bringing everyone around. With its night clubs, department stores, restaurants, and cinemas, Xinyi Shopping District is undeniably one of the best places to walk around, chill out, go shopping, and go on a food trip.
After a long day of walking around, we decided to head back to our hostel and call it a day.
4 Days in Taiwan: Day 2
On our second day, we went to the outskirts of town to visit nearby districts on the north coast. The most convenient way to explore the northern coast of Taiwan is by booking tours through apps. The only downside is that the time spent in each location is often very limited on day tours. We couldn’t do a DIY tour because the fares were too expensive. We wanted to sightsee at our own pace, so we joined a group of travellers we met through a Facebook group and shared a coaster so we could all split the fees afterwards.
Our first stop for the day was Yehliu Geopark. Located on the north coast of Taiwan, it took us 45 minutes to get to the site. The nature park is filled with unique sedimentary rock formations each named after its interesting shapes. This beautiful natural scenery is best enjoyed on a clear day as the area can get a bit slippery and windy during bad weather conditions so make sure to check the weather forecast before you visit. The most famous rock formation is the Queen’s Head. There’s a constant queue to take a picture with it so make sure to visit as early as possible to avoid the crowd.
We also purchased tickets online through an app (Klook) to avoid the long queue at the entrance, the fee costs NT$70 per person. The management already made replicas of some of the rock formations for preservation. The conservation of the area has been conscientious because this rare landscape has been depleting through the years due to erosion and human obliteration. So make sure to visit while it lasts!
Jiufen Old Street
Our next stop was a quaint Taiwanese town located on top of a mountain. We travelled for 48 minutes to reach our destination. The historic place was a former isolated gold mining mountain town, originally built by the Japanese. The small village was said to be an inspiration for some animé films, maybe due to its Japanese-esque ambience. It’s now packed with lanes and dark alleyways filled with shops selling everything from local food to trinkets for souvenirs that tourists loved. Swarming with buses and buses of visitors every day especially during the weekends, it is best to visit on a weekday.
Be prepared to walk on over 300 metres of cobblestone steps to reach the busy street, so make sure to wear comfortable footwear. Make sure to try the local delicacies as most of them are only sold in the area. One must-try grub is the very famous Jiufen taro balls. Made from chewy handmade taro, sweet potato, and green tea balls, you can choose if you want it served hot or cold. Since it was also lunchtime when we went there, we decided to have lunch in a small noodle shop that has a beautiful ocean view overlooking Keelung outer sea. We had beef noodles and dumplings which is what the shop is famous for, a delicious combination indeed.
After getting filled at Jiufen, we decided to hit the road again and went to our next stop, Shifen Waterfall. On our way to the waterfall, we had to pass through a hanging bridge and walk for at least 5-10 minutes. On our way, we could already hear the sound of the waterfalls from afar. There are lots of shops of food and souvenirs around the area which makes it a perfect place for a quick stopover.
There are viewing decks with different angles of the waterfalls and we visited at least three of them. The best view is at gate 3 where you can see the entirety of the scenery. It’s not too close but just enough to take good photos of what was known as the little Niagara Falls of Taiwan. The place can get too crowded so make sure to avoid holidays and weekends when you visit.
Shifen Old Street
Just 10 minutes away from Shifen Waterfall is our fourth destination for the day, Shifen Old Street. It’s an amazing little shopping street sprung up right along the railroad tracks. This old street is famous for their floating lanterns and of course, we had to try it out. The single coloured lanterns cost NT$150 each and the multiple coloured ones originally cost NT$200 but we bargained and got $10 off of our lantern. Each colour signifies a certain meaning so you can choose the colours accordingly. You can write or draw your wishes on your lantern and a shop assistant will help you take pictures along the tracks and fly the lantern. The train comes twice every hour so make sure you keep your distance when it arrives.
I recommend going there during sunset or in the evening for the full effect of the flying lanterns. After releasing our lantern, we decided to try their famed peanut ice cream roll. To make it, the seller laid a spring roll wrapper and sprinkled a generous amount of peanut brittle shavings from what looks like a huge sugar and peanut block, then he put three scoops of ice cream and added coriander leaves for extra flavor. Lastly, he wrapped it like a burrito and served it on a little plastic bag. Definitely a must-try!
After flying our lanterns in Shifen, we decided to go back to the city which took about 1-2 hours in the car.
One of the most popular destinations for tourists and our last stop for the day is also known as the “Harajuku of Taiwan”. Filled with a massive variety of fashion clothing shops, restaurants, bars and even bubble tea stalls, this shopping district is packed with tourists from all walks of life although comprised mostly of youths due to its lively vibe. It is right outside gate 6 of Ximending MRT Station. Fortunately, our hotel was just a five minute walk from this haven that we went here almost every single day for our meals.
The food selection is enormous and also very affordable. Some of the must-tries are the rice flour noodles, dumplings, crispy chicken cutlet, spring onion pancake, stinky tofu, and of course their pearl milk tea. There’s always a long queue on their most famous milk tea shop Xin Fu Tang so we didn’t dare fall in line but there are lots of stores that are similar. We ended our night by having dinner in one of the oldest diners in the area that cost NT$150 for a meal of crispy chicken cutlet, rice and vegetables.
On the morning of our third day, we went back to Xi-Men Walker to have brunch. We tried Ay-Chung flour-rice noodle whose shop was teeming with both locals and tourists. Their shop only has counters for order taking and the cashier, no tables and chairs. Upon getting your order, you can find a spot at any corner along the street and enjoy your noodles served in a paper bowl. We paired it with dumplings that are also sold along the same street. After getting our tummies filled, we went ahead to our next destination.
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall is a beautiful oasis spot in the middle of bustling Taipei. To go there, we took an MRT ride from Ximen Station to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall Station (Exit 5). The fare is just NT$20 and the entrance to the park is free of charge. Built after its namesake former President Chiang Kai Shek, this national park has so much to offer. Every corner is picturesque due to its magnificent architecture and the garden around the complex is well maintained. There are also seasonal flowers including cherry blossoms which bloom from February to March. Sadly, there weren’t many cherry blossoms during our stay in Taiwan but we enjoyed wandering at the pine tree walkway. You can also witness the changing of the guards at the hall that happens nine times each day.
At around 2pm that day, we took yet another train ride this time going to Taipei Zoo. From Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall Station, we rode a red line train then transferred to a brown line train in Daan Station. From there, we travelled to Taipei Zoo Station. The travel time is approximately 41 minutes including the transfer and the fare is NT$30. We arrived at around 3pm and paid an entrance fee of NT$60.
Our trip to the zoo was an unexpected favourite. I saw animals that I’ve never seen before like flamingos, zebras and white rhinos, I was easily captivated. The animals are well taken care of and are enjoying a tropical rainforest-like habitat. Unfortunately, this trip was spontaneous so we didn’t know that the zoo would be closing at 5pm and that the whole place was massive with a total land area of 165 hectares. We didn’t have enough time to walk around the whole place so we’ll make sure to dedicate a full day on our next visit.
The Maokong Gondola is just a short walk from Taipei Zoo and is definitely worth a try when you’re already there. We wanted to ride the gondola during sunset but it was already raining at that time so we decided to wait until it halted. A one-way ticket from Taipei Zoo Station to Taipei Zoo South Station cost NT$70 each person. We rode a glass-bottom cable car or what was called a “Crystal Cabin” but it was already dark when we went up so it didn’t really serve its purpose of showing everything underneath us. It was also very windy and drizzling while we were on-board so the gondola was a bit shaky. We somehow still enjoyed the ride despite the bad weather and adored the beautiful city lights of Taipei from afar.
TIP: When going to Taipei Zoo, make sure to arrive early to enjoy the entirety of the zoo and to have a better view when riding the gondola.
Shilin Night Market
As Shilin Night Market is considered as the largest and most famous night market in Taiwan, we didn’t miss the chance to scout this buzzing place. The market is filled with shops and stalls selling everything from affordable clothes, jewelries, souvenirs, and food. From full meals to snacks, you can easily get them along the streets. There are tonnes of varieties of food for you to choose from. There is also a public market where you can possibly buy the cheapest items among all night markets in Taiwan.
4 Days in Taiwan: Day 4
On our last day, we had a few hours to spare before our flight so we decided to go sightseeing around Ximending. We went back to Xi-Men Walker to go to Taipei Tianhou Temple.
Taipei Tianhou Temple
If you want to get a glimpse of local religion in Taipei, Tianhou Temple is just the right place to visit. The Buddhist temple looks like a regular storefront from the outside but is a charming temple once you come in. This historical temple is around 270 years old but was relocated on its current spot during the Japanese colonial period about 100 years ago.
Presidential Office Building
Once built for the Governor General of Taiwan during the Japanese rule, The Presidential Office Building is now the office of Taiwan’s President. There was an event when we went there so we couldn’t get inside, we just took some photos of its façade and went on. The building was well maintained and extremely guarded. It’s a great place to learn more about the history of Taiwan and undeniably a highly recommended tourist destination.
2/28 Peace Park
This park of greenery in the middle of Taipei City is right next to the Presidential Office Building and about ten minutes’ walking distance from Taipei Main Station. We were pleased with the peaceful atmosphere, perfect for a quiet stroll and relaxation. You can also see some locals jogging and working out around the park usually in the morning. The best thing about it is you can enjoy it all for free!
National Taiwan Museum
Our last destination before heading back to our hostel was another unexpected favourite. The National Taiwan Museum is located within the perimeters of 2/28 Peace Park so we couldn’t miss it. Upon entering, we were asked to pay NT$30 each, which includes entrance to both the Main Hall and the Land Bank Exhibition Hall just across the street. The architecture of the Main Hall is magnificent and the structure itself is over 100 years old. Some of the floors were closed for renovation when we visited but we still managed to make the most out of it.
Some visitors might have overlooked this but the museum has a scavenger hunt-like game that you can do while touring. It was posted on the walls so we gave it a try. It’ll ask you to download the National Taiwan Museum app and will give you instructions on what to do next. For the game, you have to answer some questions all about Taiwan’s ecological and cultural history. You can find the answers inside the museum and if you complete it, they will give you a small gift token. It made our tour a lot more fun than expected.
After our trip to the museum it was finally time to go back to our hostel to get our things and head to the airport. And just like that, our holiday experience in Taiwan was over. It was undeniably one for the books and we look forward to coming back in the near future a lot more planned and hoping we could finally experience our first snow.
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